Therapeutic Communities

OF THE MANY ANARCHIST THINKERS who have concerned themselves with the question of prisons and penal institutions (both because of their own prison experiences and because of the basic anarchist criticisms of the concept of law, law enforcement and legal sanctions), the most persuasive was Peter Kropotkin, whose lecture "Prisons and their Moral Influence on Prisoners", delivered to a working-class audience in Paris in December, 1877, and later adapted in his book on Russian and French prisons, anticipated much modern thought on the subject. In modern criminological jargon, Kropotkin would be placed in the "multiple factor school" of theorists of criminal causation, seeing three main categories of causes for anti-social acts, which he called physical, psychological, and social. He believes that "this great social phenomenon which we still call crime is what our children will call a social disease, but this does not mean that he equates crime with insanity:

It is not insane asylums that must be built instead of prisons. Such an execrable idea is far from my mind. The insane asylum is always a prison. Far from my mind also is the idea launched from time to time by the philanthropists, that the prison be kept but entrusted to physicians and teachers. What prisoners have not found today in society is a helping hand simple and friendly, which would aid them from childhood to develop the higher faculties of their minds and souls – faculties whose natural development has been impeded either by an organic defect or by the evil social conditions which society itself creates for millions of people. But these superior faculties of the mind and heart cannot be exercised by a person deprived of his liberty, if he never has choice of action. The physicians' prison, the insane asylum, would be much worse than our present jails. Human fraternity and liberty are the only correctives to apply to those diseases of the human organism which lead to so-called crime.
Of course in every society, no matter how well-organised, people will be found with easily aroused passions, who may, from time to time, commit anti-social deeds. But what is necessary to prevent this is to give their passions a healthy direction, another outlet.
Today we live too isolated. Private property has led us to an egoistic individualism in all our mutual relations. We know one another only slightly; our points of contact are too rare …

He goes on to speak of the disappearance of the "composite family" which has died out in the course of history, and to envisage "a new family, based on community of aspirations" which will take its place, a family in which people, he thinks will "lean on one another for moral support on every occasion. And this mutual prop will prevent a greatnumber of anti-social acts which we see today." But what about those people, "the sick, if you wish to call them that, who constitute a danger to society. Will it not be necessary somehow to rid ourselves of them. or at least prevent their harming others?" He then describes the treatment of the insane by the peasants of Gheel (see ANARCHY 4, p. 103 for the passage), and declares that

At one of the extremes of the immense 'space between mental disease and crime' of which Maudsley speaks, liberty and fraternal treatment have worked their miracle. They will do the same at the other extreme.

Many of Kropotkin's criticisms of the penal regime have a contemporary ring to them. He points out that the majority of the inmates of prisons "are people who did not have sufficient strength to resist the temptations surrounding them or to control a passion which momentarily carried them away", and that imprisonment simply adds to this weakness:

He generally has no choice between one of two acts. The rare occasions on which he can exercise his will are very brief. His whole life is regulated and ordered in advance. He has only to swim with the current, to obey under pain of severe punishment.
And where will he find the strength with which to resist the temptations which will arise before him, as if by magic, when he is free of the prison walls? Where will he find the strength to resist the first impulse to a passionate outbreak, if during several years everything was done to kill this inner strength, to make him a docile tool in the hands of those who control him? This fact is, according to my mind, the most terrible condemnation of the whole penal system based on the deprivation of individual liberty.

And when the prisoner is released "and once again engulfed by the current which once swept him to prison",

what a contrast between the reception by his old companions and that of the people in philanthropic work for released prisoners! Who of them will invite him to his home and say to him simply, "Here is a room, here is work, sit down at this table and become part of the family"? The released man is only looking for the outstretched hand of warm friendship. But society, after having done everything it could to make an enemy of him, having inoculated him with the vices of the prison, rejects him. He is condemned to become a 'repeater'.

That these extraordinary apposite observations were made over eighty years ago only serves to remind us how very little experimental work has been done since then in making new approaches to delinquency. We think of the "Mutual Welfare Leagues" set up by Thomas Osborne, first as prisoner 'Tom Brown' at Auburn, and then as Warden of Sing Sing, and we reflect that he was driven out of his job, while the League became a mere grievance committee. The other experiments we think of, were all with children and adolescents – William R. George's pioneering if rather naively conceived Junior Republic, Homer Lane's splendid advance on George in the Little Commonwealth, and the experiments of David Wills. (Both the latter are to be discussed in a later issue of ANARCHY).

But what Kropotkin's whole approach brings to mind most forcibly are the experiments made in different directions in this country in the last twelve years which we associate with two men, Merfyn Turner and Maxwell Jones, the work with a 'family' of ex-prisoners at Norman House of Mr. Turner, and with a therapeutic community of 'psychopaths' at the Henderson Hospital of Dr. Maxwell Jones.

* * *

Merfyn Turner is one of those people who are always pioneering on the fringe of "social work", neither a "do-gooder" nor an observer with a self-conscious cult of detachment. He began his working life as a teacher and during the war was imprisoned in Swansea as a conscientious objector. It was this experience which led him to become a prison visitor. Working in a mental hospital with a group of disturbed children, he met George, who had known neither love nor security: "He knew more about foster homes and institutions. By the age of 11 it looked as though he had sworn to scorn all signs of affection to protect himself from his own feelings … He rejected people and was untouched by their approval or their disapproval."Time and again afterwards he was to meet older Georges, people who brought trouble and unhappiness to themselves and others, and frequently got convicted for criminal behaviour of many varieties. Their common factor was "inadequacy, with crime as a link in a personal-social-economic chain of factors over which the men had but limited control."
After the war Turner was concerned with the enquiry made by an informal group into the problems of "unclubbable" boys – not the happy individualists, but the solitary, the misfit, the rejected and the aggressive, and in the study of delinquent gangs. He contributed with John Spencer the study of gangs in Peter Kuenstler's Spontaneous Youth Groups (Univ. of London Press, 1955) noting that a policy of simple repression of the anti-social gang cannot hope to succeed because it rests on a false diagnosis: "Society can only use and help the gang by building on such cohesion and spontaneity as already exists", just as Terence Morris, in the same publication observed how "By segregating the 'unclubbables', one may only succeed in emphasising the difference between them and the rest of the neighbourhood." From this concern grew the Barge Boys Club. Turner became the Warden of the barge Normanhurst, moored at Wapping, and later wrote an absorbing account of this experiment, Ship Without Sails (Univ. of London Press, 1953), revealing how "the group held within itself the means of its own salvation".
In the following year, the London Parochial Charities, the body which had paid for the barge, agreed to finance another experiment, the purchase of a house in which homeless ex-prisoners could live as a family "in equality and acceptance" with the Warden and staff. As a visitor, in a prison with no first offenders, Turner learned that "men who had been to prison before did not settle easily to their imprisonment as was popularly supposed. Prison had milestones. It had a beginning, and an ending. There was nothing in between. For the homeless in particular the prospect of release caused anxiety". He realized too, the "crippling handicap of social isolation".
The grotesque inadequacies of prison after-care have had such a lot of attention in the last few years that there is no need to emphasise them here (see the Pakenham-Thompson Committee's report Problems of the Ex-Prisoner (N. C. S. S. 1961), and Pauline Morris's pamphlet Prison After-Care: charity or public responsibility? (Fabian Society, 1960). In Merfyn Turner's view, the Aid Societies have only themselves to blame if they have harvested a reputation for ineffectuality, and a tradition of scorn and ridicule among prisoners, since it is the result of the social and economic gulf between their numbers and the prisoners, and the way in which they continued to regard the prisoner as a self-directing person brought to shame by his chosen wickedness. But the homeless prisoner needs to be accepted. He needs, says Turner, "to live in a group which supports him with his weakness and his inadequacy, and which supports him while he is learning to live the life he wants". Instead he is sent, or gravitates, to a lodging house, "an artificial and abnormal congregation of the community's misfits". Turner stayed for some time in one of the London common lodging houses (see his report Forgotten Men, published by the N. C. S. S. in 1960) and came away convinced that they make the homeless discharged prisoner's return to prison more certain.
Norman House, in Highbury, was opened in January, 1955. Having been a prison visitor for many years, Turner had been able to gain concessions from the rigid rules which restrict the visitor's opportunities, and visit men outside his allocated list as well as sitting in on the Discharging Committee. This enabled him to establish a relationship with the "No Fixed Abode" men that he thought he could help. At the beginning he began to enumerate the categories of offenders that

About 80 per cent. of recidivist prisoners in England are categorised as 'inadequate': introverted, neurotic, friendless. Their crimes are usually trivial, including vagrancy, begging, 'being a suspicious person', indecent exposure, loitering with intent, etc. The average value of property stolen by this group is less than two pounds a time. But the prison sentences they are serving go up to ten years.
It is obvious that a prison sentence will not help a man who is 'inadequate' to be a success outside. It will not help the man who is in for indecent exposure to adjust to normal sexual relations; it will not find the man who is a lonely failure a job, or a wife. All he can learn in prison is how to commit other (perhaps more serious) crimes.

– JOHN SYLVESTER in The Spectator 13/10/61

he thought this particular scheme would not benefit, because they needed more specialised help. The list grew longer the more he thought about it, and in the event he accepted every type of prisoner.
He has now written a book about his five years as warden of Norman House, Safe Lodging (Hutchinson 25s.), five years in which nearly two hundred men lived for long or short periods at the house. Only one returned to prison while still living there. Only a reading of the book with its appalling case-histories, though Turner is the last man to see his family as "cases" will give you an idea of what an achievement this was, or how exhausting. His own conclusion on his experiment is that

By making the emotional climate right, the need for criminal activity is eliminated. I feel with three-quarters of our prison population crime is not a calculated first choice but the last link in a chain of events, representing the inadequacy and instability of offenders. What we give them here at Norman House is not some special subtle technique but sheer, continuous love. Some, we know, relapse when they leave here. But we think we have been able to demonstrate that while these men are under our roof, criminal behaviour simply ceases. Perhaps in these days when there is so much discussion and so little experiment, this may prove to be a positive and practical contribution to the prevention of crime.

Merfyn Turner, who writes with a sardonic astringency, emphasises the difficulty in finding suitable staff and non-offenders to live in the community. "Some of our Management Committee maintained that there were advantages in taking non-offenders who had their problems. But the Committee were not required to live with them." One non-offender who turned up was a young woman barrister Shirley Davis. They married, and their child too played a part in the work: "For many of our men, the chance to give had been denied them because there was nobody to receive. Now there was an opportunity to give, and to participate in the child's pleasure of receiving." Thus, in the case of one man,

If anyone at the House could claim to have saved Artie, it was the one who knew least about human behaviour, for between Artie and our son, who was then three years old, there developed a relationship which seemed to reflect an intuitive response to each other's needs.

Finally, let me quote one of Turner's most thought-provoking conclusions on the nature of crime and the criminal:

Crime is always news. It evokes various emotional responses. Crimes of violence, and certain offences against the person, inflicting as they sometimes do, grievous injury on innocent members of society create a response that stamps the criminal as the enemy of all that is good, and clean, and civilized. He cannot possibly be anybody's neighbour.
Yet it was some of these 'enemies of society' that helped to keep alive for us our belief in the goodness of all men, and in the power of love to influence behaviour in a positive and lasting manner. They helped also to strengthen our conviction that our approach to the problem of the homeless offender was the approach that offered most hope of success. It had to be realistic to the degree of accepting the unhappy truth that the criminal who committed straightforward offences against property might cause less injury to society by being allowed to continue along his criminal path than by being 'reformed', if reformation only means, as it frequently does in the field of After-Care, that the offender has been prevailed upon, directly or indirectly, to abandon crime. His crime may be a symptom of his complete emotional detachment, and his defence against people and the injury they might do him. He may abandon it because he has become emotionally involved. The end then may be worse than the beginning, and crimes of violence against people and property may be added to a criminal record that previously showed only simple housebreaking offences.

* * *

Experiments of a different kind with therapeutic communities grew up during the last war as a by-product of military psychiatry – the morally indefensible attempt to use psychiatric medicine as a means of turning 'sick' men into soldiers. Dr. W. R. Bion developed the 'leaderless group project' at a military psychiatric hospital at Northfield, Birmingham, where group discussion was used to enable the group, as Bion put it, to study "its own internal tensions with a view to laying bare the influence of neurotic behaviour in producing frustration, waste of effort, and unhappiness in a group". The experiment was ended under external pressure. Similar methods were then used in "Civil Resettlement Units" which sought to provide a residential setting in which returned prisoners of war could adjust themselves to ordinary life. (It is interesting to reflect how the problems of prisoners and the structure of prison life can be much more easily comprehended if you can persuade people to put aside their burden of moral condemnation and anxiety and think of all prisoners as war prisoners, whose problems are recognised and whose internal solidarity is applauded). Taking advantage of the favourable official climate of those years, Dr. Maxwell Jones, a psychiatrist, developed a therapeutic community at the Mill Hill Emergency Hospital, and then an Ex-prisoner-of-war unit at Dartford. Then in April 1947 he started the "Industrial Neurosis Unit" at Belmont Hospital, Sutton (described in his book Social Psychiatry published by Tavistock Publications in 1952, and in America as The Therapeutic Community, 1954). This grew into the Henderson Hospital, a l00-bed "social rehabilitation unit", in a drab building – once a workhouse – within the Belmont Hospital complex.
This building, which belongs, as John P. Conrad writes, "to the dreary history of institutional psychiatry" houses

one of the most hopeful enterprises in the history of the mental health movement, due to the genius, persistence and charm of Dr. Maxwell Jones, who insists on being called 'Max' by staff and patients …
Why is the social rehabilitation unit important? To answer this question, we must know something about the twilight field of mental disorder to which psychiatrists uncomfortably refer as 'psychopathy', 'character disorder', "sociopathy' or 'behaviour disturbance'. In short, something is wrong with the mind and spirit of the habitual thief, the sex offender, the brawler, and the social misfit. Because the cure eluded him, the 19th century psychiatrist consigned these people to a category labelled 'psychopathy' and declared them untreatable.

Like Merfyn Turner, Maxwell Jones did not believe that nothing could be done. The hundred patients, half of them referred to the hospital by the magistrates' courts, and half by psychiatric clinics, live in groups of twenty-five, each with its own staff. They work in the unit's workshops and every weekday morning they meet, together with the staff, as a community to discuss the daily problems of running the place.
The Henderson hospital does not "cure" its patients, or at least it does not claim to, but it does claim to help them to hold on to a job, to cope with ordinary life and keep out of trouble. Some patients leave early, after a week or a fortnight, but those who stay – from eight months to a year – are usually helped by the experience. (So are the staff; by the breaking down which the group method implies, of the usual rigid hierarchy of hospital administration). The latest extension to its work is the opening of a family wing where some patients can live with their wives and families.
Again, after-care is the biggest problem. A club of ex-patients in the London area meets weekly in London with members of the Henderson staff, and another group of ex-patients have organised a mutual aid body. A story was told last year of a member who, after getting into minor difficulties at work, disappeared.

His fellows traced his whereabouts, got in touch with his employers and persuaded them to keep the job open, and paid for the fugitive's return ticket. Here indeed seems to be 'a change in social attitudes'.

John Conrad believes that ultimately from this experiment reliable ways of helping the persistent psychopathic offender will emerge:

But the lesson can only be learned in this free situation, where scientific knowledge and research join forces to attack a persistent misery. There is tremendous hope in psychiatric treatment of the psychopath as practised at Henderson Hospital. There is no hope in a medically operated prison where the repressive technique of traditional psychiatry keep the lid on social pressures until they explode.

* * *

When, over forty years ago, Homer Lane ran the 'Little Commonwealth' he used to be saddened by those visitors who attributed his success to his exceptional personality and not to his methods. In thinking about two remarkable experiments we may be very conscious of our lack of that inner freedom and fearlessness which enables people to embark on experiments for which most people predict failure, and then to undertake the continuous hard work that makes them successful. Yet Merfyn Turner is unwilling to take personal credit for his work at Norman House ("I suppose I'm a bit of a misfit myself" he says). The continuance of his work and the establishment of other Norman Houses with the support of the fund set up to commemorate the work of the late Margery Fry, is a tribute to the method as well as the man. And the adoption in other countries of the methods of the Henderson Hospital as well as the continuance of the original unit, show that the same is true of Maxwell Jones's work there. When he left it was thought that its success was due to his particular genius and that the work would flounder without him. But it didn't happen.
Let us remember therefore that the tragedy, as Lord Lytton put it, of Homer Lane's life was that people said "What a marvellous man, he is inimitable", when they should have said, "What admirable principles, let us adopt them."

I have not treated any patients while in prison or living in a regimented institution, and I have misgivings about doing so. It is difficult to serve two masters: either you are on the side of the prisoner and then you are likely to get into difficulties with the prison authorities sooner or later, or you are on the side of the latter and then cannot win the trust of the inmates who are always likely to suspect the prison psychiatrist of being a spy. Also, if we treat a patient in the restricted, and in its way, sheltered situation of prison we have no means of judging how he will adapt himself when he comes out and is faced with the manifold difficulties of liberty, family life, or lack of it, the task of finding and holding a job and the innumerable hurts and disappointments he is sure to encounter.
It is particularly important to treat patients immediately after their discharge from prison. An important factor in recidivism is the fact that when the criminal comes out of prison he is not psychologically in a fit state to settle down or to take a job or to cope with his innumerable (family and other) problems …
In the treatment of criminals, more than with any other patients, I have been impressed with the tremendous difference even a little help may make to a man's future life. There is a world of difference between a man who is still neurotic and unstable, and yet able to support himself and lead a fairly normal life, and one who is compelled to commit crimes that make him spend the rest of his life in and out of prison. The difference is more marked from the point of view of society, which is either hurt by the criminal when free or has to maintain him while in prison.

–MELLITA SCHMIDEBERG" The Analytic Treatment of Major Criminals"

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Jul 15 2016 23:28


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